Friday, 23 May 2014

What's Today's Date? The Date?!

An odd question to ask unless you're stepping out of a turbolift in your pyjamas after discovering you're travelling back and forth through time.

That date was of course Stardate 47988 - but more significant is the fact that All Good Things..., the final installment of the triumphant return to TV of Star Trek was first aired today in 1994. For those of your about to do some quick maths - that's 20 years ago exactly.

While the US would get to see it in syndication over the next few days, we in the UK would have to wait until All Good Things... arrived on our shores through the medium of VHS. These were the days long before SKY would show new episodes the next (or same) day as the US. How did I survive?! 

I'd kept track of some of the plot points through TV Zone, Starlog and Starburst magazines and eagerly counted down the days until the release of volume 79. I was there as the shop door opened and happily parted with £10.99.

Even today I remember watching it for the first time, unwrapping the cellophane and pushing the cassette into the player. Sadly it was in two-part format which really angered UK fans - but I wasn't disappointed. For note they did release it on VHS as the movie with the Journey's End special a month or so later on a limited run at double the price (also had all the movie trailers as an extra feature). 

The season leading to this point had been mixed with Phantasms, Parallels, The Pegasus and Pre-Emptive Strike the stand out shows but there had also been a lot of average and below par stories such as Sub Rosa, Attached and Force of Nature. Maybe the time had come to call it a day after all. Dad and I settled in for 90 minutes. All went quiet. Press play.

All Good Things... also started the trend for bringing the series' full circle as both Deep Space Nine and Voyager repeated with What You Leave Behind and Endgame. Here in this story it was the end of a very special era - the show that had successfully, gloriously returned Star Trek to the small screen was coming to an end and their adventures would soon be moving to the cinema in Generations. No more would the Enterprise-D cross the TV and we'd be able to see that little man walk across the observation lounge, waiting to see just what the next hour would bring.

The long-forgotten Trial of Humanity came back to haunt Picard as did Q - although his portrayal by De Launcie was miles away from his appearance in Encounter at Farpoint. This was a Q who's own journey through the show had finally revealed a little bit of his humanity at the least. Honestly though it's all the future stuff that sticks in my mind; bearded Picard, VISOR-less Geordi, old and bitter Riker, that super-Enterprise-D, the Klingon ships and the homage to The Original Series design in the shape of the USS Pasteur. The past was equally as brilliant taking us back before the mission to Farpoint and bringing Tasha Yar back to the bridge and back from the dead. Again.

It's also odd to think that both O'Brien and Worf made their first appearance in The Next Generation's pilot - two of the characters who would ultimately have the most screen time ever and were never intended as little more than background talking extras. Having O'Brien back for this was a nice bonus and he did get a lot more to do this time!

This was a feel good finale, a nod to the fans, giving them some nice little treats of a potential future as well as placing existence in the greatest danger ever. It had everything from the off. Let's face it, letting Brannon Braga and Ronald D Moore loose on the script it was never going to be easy to get your head round and there was almost a concrete guarantee that time travel would be involved in some manner. It's one of Q's finest moments before he was mistreated by Voyager. The changes in him were evident. Whereas he would have easily erased the crew and humanity from existence if he was the same person we saw back in Encounter at Farpoint he's giving Picard a chance to prove there is some hope for his people. 

Patrick Stewart is in every single scene here and manages the episode magnificently. He is as much a lynchpin to the events as the anti-time rift and Picard is never more in control here. Seeing the crew question him in the past is a masterstroke and reiterates how far the show and the crew have come since that first mission - just how much trust he has in them in every respect. It's a great speech that kicks off that final segment.

It's worth watching back to spot the odd reference here and there which you might miss - Earl Grey not programmed or Geordi married to Leah Brahms perhaps - every level of fandom is catered for here. It just works on all levels and actually, you don't care if the science is a bit hokum because it's purely about entertainment and throwing everything in to make this worthy of the show itself. The cast ensemble works a treat with everyone getting to shine for a moment at least - perhaps moreso in the future where time has been less than kind to some.

The mix of family, action and reflection make it the strongest of the series finales from any generation hands down. I watched it the first time with my dad and it just blew us both away becoming an instant favourite of ours. Shame we had to wait a while to see all the extra bits they sliced out to make it into a less satisfying two part story. But in the big picture it didn't matter on that first viewing. This was a massive send off for the show and we loved every second of it. No other finale can match that closing scene - the poker game led by Picard for the first and only time. It was truly over; there would be no more new TV episodes of The Next Generation - it was all going to be in Deep Space Nine's court and this new show that was coming a few months later called Voyager. On a side note today also marks the anniversary of the first airing of that show's last episode in 2001. We'll hold off until 2016 to mark that one out I think.

The Next Generation had been a bigger success than anyone had expected,  spawned two other series,  would lead to another beyond that and another four motion pictures. The Next Generation had created a resurgence in Star Trek that would have been unimaginable in the 1970s. Odd in a way when this series probably owed more to The Motion Picture,  not a fan favourite, than II, III or IV.  What of this episode's legacy? Well from my perspective it represents a pinnacle of storytelling, possibly Moore and Braga at their Star Trek best. Star Trek itself would have to survive in different forms, no longer reliant on the voyages of a starship named Enterprise - but for me this was the golden age of the franchise - there was a ton of TV, new books, games, a was all happening right about the time of All Good Things...

So what were my favourite bits here? For one you have to say the decloaking of the USS Enterprise-D refit as it obliterates two Klingon warships is just 200% pure enjoyment. The scene between Old Picard and Old Q is also a gem of a moment. Although not essential for the plot it's a little lighter point and also one of the segments clipped to fit it into a two part format. Getting to see Worf back in command red (little did we know) and the original one-piece uniforms brought back some memories. I think having watched this I then chose to skip back and watch the pilot and after the continuous build in quality over seven years it was one heck of a shock if only for Sirtis' over-emotional Troi.

Here's to the anniversary, the landmark that was the first planned series finale of Star Trek. The first of three bookended by two shows that were cut short before their time. Congratulations to The Next Generation - 20 years on and it's still just as good as the first time. Just as the Enterprise continues to fly on as the credits fade up, so would Star Trek.
"Goodbye, Jean-Luc. I'll miss you. You did have so much potential. But alas... all good things must come to an end." - Q

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